Transition to online learning presents challenges for students in job training programs

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero via KGO logo
Friday, June 26, 2020
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Learning by doing is what motivates these students, but the switch to virtual classrooms has made it hard for them to get certified as medical assistants, carpenters and cooks.

MENLO PARK, Calif. (KGO) -- Felicia Hall was one week into her classes at JobTrain in Menlo Park when businesses and schools in the Bay Area had to close in mid-March.

She had hoped to begin an externship in September as a medical assistant, but those plans are being delayed.

"I really don't self-motivate outside a classroom so this has been a challenge," said Hall.

JobTrain is a workforce development agency in Menlo Park that trains mostly young people for careers in healthcare, construction, technology and culinary arts.

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"We are founded on the idea that there are two fundamental gaps in society. One is the opportunities gap where the assumption is there is talent equally spread across all communities but opportunity is not spread equally across communities," said Barrie Hathaway, president and CEO of JobTrain.

The other gap is in skills. JobTrain gives students the set of skills they need to reach those opportunities.

"While they can start out at the entry level, the potential for them to make a full economic mobility wage is there," said Hathaway.

About 90% of students are people of color. Some have been incarcerated in the past and all of them are low-income. Many are students who learn best with hands-on training.

That has been a challenge since the shelter-in-place order. JobTrain had to close its campus and switch to online learning.

"It has been a fundamental change to our program. How do you teach someone to cook if you don't put them in the kitchen. How do you teach someone to give an injection and take a blood draw or take blood pressure if you don't have the experience of actually doing it. The hands on is critical," said Hathaway.

JobTrain put all classes except its technology program on hold while it configured its curriculum so that lecture can be done remotely. The medical assistant class that Hall had started finally resumed in mid-June.

"I didn't take any of this in when I was doing biology in high school," said Hall. "It is making more sense to me now because I have a goal in mind."

Geetika Pattjoshi is teaching the medical assistant class. She gives students instruction on some of the skills they need to learn and has them send in videos to show they understand what needs to be done.

"They don't have the actual sheet they need to use so I have them use household items like a tweezer and a napkin and have them practice with that," said Pattjoshi.

Students have to overcome obstacles to get the work done. One students logs onto the morning lecture from her car because there is a daycare in her home and that causes too many distractions.

Pattjoshi tries to maintain a certain regimen for students just as if they were showing up to class.

"Everyone is in scrubs. Their hair has to be tied up like when we are in the classroom event though we are doing it virtually. My rules haven't changed," said Pattjoshi, who has also integrated wellness sessions to the curriculum to keep students focused and motivated.

The plan is to reopen the school in August and allow small groups of students to get some hands-on training with an instructor so they can get certified in their field.

The economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the students. JobTrain did an assessment survey and found that 43% of its students had lost their job within the first week of the stay-at-home order. 60% had someone in the household who also lost their job.

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"Our community that is just starting in their careers are at great risk of being hurt by this pandemic economically," said Hathaway.

One of those hurt by the job losses was Sean Monterrosa. He was shot and killed on June 2 by a Vallejo police officer during a night of unrest following the George Floyd shooting. Police say the officer mistook a hammer in Monterrosa's pocket for a gun. Monterrosa's family said he was kneeling and surrendering.

"He was a young man who very much wanted a better life for himself," said Hathaway. "When he was at JobTrain, he did everything he could and he took advantage of everything we had to offer to help him on that path."

Monterrosa graduated as a carpentry apprentice in December. He was working in construction but lost his job during the shutdown. Hathaway said Monterrosa came back to JobTrain to ask for help paying rent.

"We need to see Sean Monterrosa as a human being who was trying hard and doing everything he could and had a whole system struck against him. And if we all truly believe that was true for him, we'd all be fighting to change that system," said Hathaway.

JobTrain is shifting its program to include more supportive services to help students find temporary jobs until the economy recovers.

"We are shifting our sites to full economic mobility," explains Hathaway. "That means you are going to get a job but we are not letting you go until you reach that full economic mobility and the potential for better wages."

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